I watched a news report on American television a few years ago featuring university educators bemoaning the fact that their students were exhibiting “Attention Deficit Disorder” (ADD) in the classroom. Lecturers were shown admonishing students not to “text” during classes, and not to use their cell phones so they can devote their full attention to the presentations of their professors.
It was then surmised that our beloved portable gadgets are the reason for the short attention spans exhibited by many students today.
While this blog article does not focus on “major gift fundraising” directly, I wanted to address the issue because it relates to a “case for support” I developed for a children’s program at the Dallas Zoological Society in the mid-1990s.
In brief, while we can argue technologies like laptop computers, iPads and tablets, mobile phones and the like contribute to increased distraction and short attention spans, the problem did not start with these devices. One can trace the issue back to children watching television programs, including such genuinely well-meaning broadcasts designed specifically for children like “Sesame Street,” an educational show that began in the 1960s.
Dr. Jane M. Healy wrote an insightful book about early childhood development and education, “Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It.” I discovered the book through a colleague working in the education division of the Dallas Zoo. As it happened, while I was working at the Dallas Zoological Society, the Junior League of Dallas had also become aware of Dr. Healy’s work, and they brought her to speak during a meeting I attended as a guest.
Drawing on neurophychological research, Dr. Healy discusses:
“… how growing brains are physically shaped by experience; why television programs – even supposedly educational shows like Sesame Street – develop ‘habits of mind’ that place children at a disadvantage in school; why increasing numbers of children are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder; how parents and teachers can make a critical difference by making children good learners from the day they are born.”
One of the takeaways from Dr. Healy that I gained is simply that one must seek balance in life. Don’t let television and new technologies serve as your children’s “babysitters.” Be sure your children – from an early age – have adequate “hands-on” learning experiences and interaction with others “real-time,” not just through the medium of their technological gadgets.
Having said that, I wouldn’t suggest hampering your children by encouraging them not to learn new technologies. To do so would reduce their chances of success in modern life! There are so many wonderful applications of new technologies that outweigh the bad (including safety and access to high quality educational information). We cannot avoid the fact that the trend of using new technologies across all sectors of society continues to grow, not to decline.
Returning to my experience at the Dallas Zoological Society, Dr. Healy’s findings about young children and how they “learn” by physically touching and experiencing the world around them (including in environments where there is “safe danger,” like zoos), became the key argument of my case for support for a new and expanded children’s zoo. Many inner city youth have little experience with wildlife and are often “parked” in front of television sets (and other gadgets), at a key time in their mental development. Balancing gadgets with quality time in the real world is essential to building well-balanced adults – especially ones that appreciate nature and wildlife and will therefore protect them as adults.
My case for support provided a winning argument for the Dallas Zoological Society. From the perspective of a development professional, you can see how a partnership with program staff, a well-known child psychologist, and our local Junior League (which included many mothers of young children) lead to fundraising success. It took a village in our case, and this was a very worthy endeavor.
I close with a few additional items of information you might enjoy:
- PR Newswire, “New Research Reveals Overwhelming Majority of Parents Believe Technology Has Positive Effect On Their Children’s Lives” (November 17, 2015).
“Parents recognize and value the positive impact that technology and the Internet can have on their child’s future, creativity, communications skills and education,” said Stephen Balkam, founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute. “Technology’s opportunities also require recognition of its challenges, however, and more parents need to be aware of the available resources and tools that will enable good digital parenting and keep our kids safe online.”
- Nick Bilton wrote for The New York Times, “Steve Jobs was a Low-Tech Parent” (September 10, 2014). “Children under 10 seem to be most susceptible to becoming addicted, so these [high tech] parents draw the line at not allowing any gadgets during the week. On weekends, there are limits of 30 minutes to two hours on iPad and smartphone use. And 10- to 14-year-olds are allowed to use computers on school nights, but only for homework.”
- Mallory Smith has written for Futurist, “Technology is Improving Education” (January 6, 2013). “Technology is shifting the focus of educational practices to be more about tailoring learning to the student’s specific needs. Learning tools and curricula are increasingly customizable , making it easier for every student to find a learning method that works for them.”
- The National Environmental Education Foundation has produced a video that is posted on YouTube (5:28), discussing the use of technology and “gadgets” in the wilderness (the best of both worlds for many), “Using Technology to Connect Students & the Environment.”
- In Rebecca Levey’s article for Mashable, “Don’t Fear Your Kids’ Technology Use; Embrace It” (March 22, 2013). “If you’ve been reading the news lately, you might feel overwhelmed with thoughts of technology anxiety and the possibility that the shiny little device in the palm of your child’s hand is just a gateway to harm. I always answer these questions with the same opening line: You are the parent, and a screen doesn’t change that.”
- An insightful study is discussed by Anne Collier in The Christian Science Monitor, “Parenting the Littlest Media Users” (June 19, 2013). “Professor Clark recommends that, instead of asking how much screen time is too much, parents might ‘think about teaching time management’ so they can learn develop their own self-regulatory skills. And Prof. Barbara Fiese at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, encourages healthy habits in the whole ‘family ecology’ of which media is just one part, Clark reports.”
For who still believe there is trouble ahead vis-a-vis our use of gadgets, see the next page of my blog, “The Flip Side.”